Dion DiMucci &
The most successful white doo wop group,
Dion and the Belmonts were perhaps the suavest of New York
City's late-fifties white teen idols.
Dion DiMucci broke from that
clean-cut pack with an engagingly cool, streetwise swagger
epitomized by "The Wanderer."
Dion DiMucci was born July 18, 1939 in the Bronx. His
father was a professional puppeteer who spent his summers
performing in the Borscht Belt, a collection of lounges,
theaters and hotel showrooms from Boston to Philadelphia.
He began singing at the age of five picking up the guitar
a few years later. His father introduced him to Paul Whitman, a
1920s bandleader. By the 1950s, Whitman was best known for
discovering and promoting young talent. At about twelve Dion
began appearing with Whitman on radio and television programs
along the East Coast, including Whitman's own Teen Club.
As a teenager Dion had two things, other than girls, to
occupy his time when he wasn't in school. One was the local
gang, he belonged to the Fordham Daggers. The other was spending
evenings singing on street corners.
Early in 1957, Dion booked some studio time and recorded
four rock and roll songs as a Valentines Day present for his
mother. The demo reached the producers of Teen Club TV show out
of Philadelphia, where he made his performing debut in 1954.
Dion's reputation eventually spread far enough to reach
Irv Spicer who owned Mohawk Records. Using unknown studio
musicians and backing vocalist Dion recorded "The Chosen Few"
and "Out Of Colorado." After selling a few copies locally it was
released by Jubilee, a larger New York record company. However,
it was still unable to find an audience.
When approached by Spicer to record a second single Dion
said he'd only do it with his own backing group. Spicer agreed
and Dion found the three best street singers he knew. Two were
Carlo Mastrangelo and Freddy Millano, members of rival gang, the
Imperial hoods. Along with Angelo D' Aleo they made up the
Belmonts named after Belmont Avenue.
Dion began listening to street doo wop and composing in
this style, and in early 1958, Mohawk issued "Tag Along" b/w "We
With a sound that was raw and crude it's no wonder that
few records were sold. However, they served another purpose. The
opened the door for them to join another record company.
In 1958 Bob and Gene Schwartz, Elliott Greenberg and Allen
Sussel began Laurie Records. Gene Schwartz had written "Tag
Along," so when looking for an opening act for Laurie, Schwartz
looked no further than Dion and the Belmonts. Laurie Record's
first single "I Wonder Why" was recorded on afternoon at New
York's Bell Sound Studios. Dion's vocal was slightly flat with
slight nasal overtones - a style that would become his
trademark, but the Belmonts were right on the money. "I Wonder
Why" wasn't really what Dion and the Belmonts were all about,
but it made people sit up and listen.
Released the first week of May, 1958 it was on the
national charts two weeks later. Before the month was out, they
were on Dick Clark's Saturday night CBS-TV show. For Dion, there
would be no turning back. Immediately they were booked on a
one-nighter tour that crisscrossed the country. He also began
dabbling in drugs where he picked up a heroin habit that he
didn't kick until 1968.
The Belmonts second single "I Wonder Why" was a hit,
almost making the Top Twenty. "No One Knows" and "Don't Pity Me"
followed, but the Belmonts big break out hit came in the spring
of 1959 with "A Teenager in Love" (#5). The next year "Where or
When" made it to #3.
The Belmonts toured frequently, often on package tours
with other stars. In February 1959, Dion passed up a plane ride
on the chartered plane that later crashed, killing Buddy Holly,
Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.
By the early 60s Dion and the Belmonts broke up. The main
reason was Dion's heroin habit which he had been nurturing since
he was sixteen. At first, those around him tried to cover it up.
In October 1959, While "When and Where" was nearing the top of
the charts, Dion was hospitalized; in an attempt to kick the
habit. Variety magazine quietly noted that he had been ordered
by his doctor to "take a leave of absence." The outward
impression was that Dion was overworked.
The cohesiveness of the group was gone. Dion was busy with
his new music publishing firm, Donna-Joan Music, named after his
sisters. The Belmonts decided they could make it on their own
and in the summer of 1960 they broke with Dion. Their first
single on Laurie was "We Belong Together," but it failed to
catch on. They moved to Surprise Records for "Tell Me Why" which
was a nice up-tempo ballad, much like their earlier ones with
Dion. In the spring of 1961, "Tell Me Why" was switched to
Sabrina and eventually entered to Top Twenty. The Belmonts
released a dozen singles on Sabrina in 1964. Sales were moderate
to good along the East Coast, and their hits included "Don't Get
Around Much Anymore" and "Come On Little Angel."
In an attempt to exert his independence, Dion's first
three solo singles were distinctly different than those done
with the Belmonts. "Lonely Teenager" featured a backing group
with a female lead. With a bouncy rhythm it was near the Top Ten
in the late fall of 1960. "The Kissing Game" an over produced
record was another complete departure and was a disaster.
Finally "Somebody Nobody Wants" was a tired record and it was
obvious that a change was needed.
By early 1960 the unaccredited Del-Satins brought in to
sing background vocals in the style of the Belmonts.. He had Top
Ten hits with "Runaround Sue" (#1), "The Wanderer" (#2), "Lovers
Who Wander" (#3), and "Little Diane" (#8) in 1962.
With his contract up with Laurie in June, 1962, Dion
jumped to Columbia. He brought along the Del-Satins and had hits
with "Ruby Baby" (#2) "Drip Drop" (#6), and "Donna the Prima
Donna" (#6) in 1963. By this time he was recording for Columbia
Records. Dion also appeared in the film Teenage Millionaire
DiMucci dropped The Del Satins in late 1963. In 1964 Dion
released a string of unsuccessful covers and then began
recording blues material around 1965 with little commercial
In 1967 he reunited with the Belmonts and they recorded
"Mr. Movin' Man," "Berimbau," and an album Together Again
for ABC Records in 1968. In early 1968 he moved with his wife
and daughter to Miami, where with the help of his father-in-law,
he finally kicked his heroin habit. Later that year he recorded
the "Abraham, Martin, and John," a #4 hit ballad tribute to
Lincoln, King, and Kennedy. The follow-up, a cover of Jimi
Hendrix's "Purple Haze" was a flop.
The next few years was spent on the singing in
coffeehouses. Now with Warner Brothers, his debut album, Sit
Down Old Friend, featured just his voice and acoustic
guitar on eight songs. He next released was the anti-drug
single "Your Own Backyard." Neither sold well, and Dion reunited
with the Belmonts. The group played Madison Square Garden in
mid-1972, as documented on the Reunion album. Dion
briefly re-entered the show business mainstream, frequently
appearing on TV variety shows. In the mid-Seventies Dion with
Phil Spector recorded Born to Be with You, but it was
only released in the U.K.
Dion returned to rock and roll in June 1987
with a series of sold out concerts at Radio City Music Hall. His
autobiography The Wanderer was published in 1988. In
1989 with the assistance of Paul Simon, Lou Reed, and k.d. lang,
Dion recorded Yo Frankie under producer Dave Edmunds,
managing a minor hit with "In the Still of the Night."
In 1990 he toured with Edmunds, Graham Parker, and Kim Wilson of
the Fabulous Thunderbirds. By the mid-90s Dion had moved back to
New York and formed the group the Little Kings with guitarists
Scott Kempner of the Dictators and Del Lords, bassist Mike
Mesaros of the Smithereens, and Frank Funaro of the Del Lords
for engagements on the East Coast.
Dion was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in